Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The "Not-listening Monkey" tea caddy [不聞猿 という茶入]

In the process recently of writing a section of my dissertation which concerns meibutsu (famed and named) tea utensils, I came across this enigmatic little piece mentioned in a Japanese journal called  銘のはなし:十二ヶ月. Mei no hanashi: jyuni ka getsu (Kyoto: Tankosha, October 1998). 

How much do I love that this tea caddy is named "not-listening monkey" (Kikazaru)! Just look at the shape and you'll see why it evokes one of the three famous monkeys at Nikko's Toshugu mausoleum. Awesome!

While on the face of it, the name is already charming, I believe there's also embedded grammatical pun here. The surface reading of the name translates as "not listening monkey" but if you consider that the "monkey" part of the name "zaru" in this reading, is a homophone for a classical mizenkei (negating) verb ending, then you realize that it's actually a double negative -- thus a positive, possible to read as both "not listening monkey" AND as "Not-not-listening" (which is actually listening). Yeah, I'm a nerd and quite possibly overthinking this double-negative business, but it's fun to contemplate these possibilities for the meaning of the name.

It is credited to Sohaku 宗伯, an Edo-era period Seto-ware potter whose dates are unclear, though apparently he was a contemporary of Nobunaga and Hideyoshi. It may have been named by him, but that is also not certain. The journal and other sources I've consulted don't provide a chain of ownership (yurai) entry, so I'm not even sure who owned it, though it's a meibutsu piece. I will continue to check other meibutsuki from the Edo era and see if I can find an entry for it. 

Here's what the Japan Knowledge Database says about Sohaku: 織豊時代の陶工。

Some tea friends in my circle think the handles mark it as a chuko-meibutsu dating to Enshu's lifetime, but the sources I've consulted all term it a meibutsu, which would date it earlier, to around the time of Rikyu. Certainly, in this case, the handles are the defining feature, as the majority of tea caddies lack them altogether.

Either way, it's a cute piece with a very apt name, don't you agree?

There certainly are some days I can relate to not wanting to hear certain things.

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